Now call him 'Single Sheets'

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Photo by Jeff Vorva

George Sheets will be going back to being a fire chief in just one community in the coming months.


Fire Chief George Sheets’ double-duty role leading both the Oak Lawn and Chicago Ridge fire departments may be over in a few months, but he and officials in both villages said the arrangement has been successful and no one seems to be in a rush to end it.

Sheets, 51, has been chief of the Oak Lawn Fire Department since 2009 and will continue in that role. The Missouri native began his career in 1981 with the Missouri Fire Service, moving up from firefighter to lieutenant and captain before taking leadership positions in fire departments in Portage and Kalamazoo, Mich. He was chief of fire and EMS services in Beaver Dam, Wis., before coming to Oak Lawn.

“No one is being fired. No one is being forced out,” he said, explaining that when he took on the additional role of Chicago Ridge fire chief last July, it was intended to be a transitional period.

He said he expressed his intentions to go back to Oak Lawn full-time because all the goals he set have been met. But he expects to be holding down both jobs for at least a few more months while the process of selecting his replacement goes on.

The Oak Lawn resident said splitting time between the neighboring departments—his offices are both near Ridgeland Avenue, about a mile apart—has worked smoothly, for the most part.

“If a fire happens in Oak Lawn, I am the Oak Lawn chief, although the Chicago Ridge Fire Department might be assisting,” he said, explaining how his roles are kept separate.

“I think it has worked out very well for both communities,” said Mayor Chuck Tokar of Chicago Ridge. “He has done a great job, and I am in no hurry to see him go.”

Tokar said the process of finding a replacement is in the preliminary stages, “He said he was thinking about (leaving Chicago Ridge). He might have received some applications, but I haven’t even had a chance to talk to Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and Village Manager Larry Deetjen about the situation.”

In recent weeks,Bury also has praised Sheets for his work with both communities, and said the arrangement has worked well.

“This isn’t something that is going to happen on Aug. 1, or Sept. 1. It will be a few months at least,” said Tokar.

Sheets admitted occasionally turning up for duty in one village while wearing the shirt or uniform jacket of the other department.

“That was corrected quickly,” he said with a smile. “It has been suggested that the uniform patches should be attached with Velcro, so they can be switched back and forth.”

While Sheets said he has never turned up at one village office when he was scheduled to be at the other, he often goes back and forth between the two during the day.

For instance, he had planned an interview for this story in Oak Lawn. But when a situation required his presence in Chicago Ridge, the interview was switched to the  Chicago Ridge headquarters at 10063 Virginia Ave., where he was found wearing his Oak Lawn Fire Department t-shirt.

In Chicago Ridge, Sheets oversees 13 full-time firefighters, 11 part-time, and 18 paid on-call firefighters. Two of the main goals that he sid he met during his tenure at the Chicago Ridge department was building a good working relationship between the full-time and part-time firefighters, as well as reopening the Lombard Avenue fire station.

That station at 10658 S. Lombard Ave. had been used for storage for many years until it reopened with a village-wide celebration in May.

While the next goal is to eventually have 24-hour service, the Lombard station is now open from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily, staffed by both part-time and full-time firefighters.

Sheets credits the part-time firefighters who took on the work of cleaning out and restoring the Lombard Avenue station to usable condition. Full-time firefighters also donated their time, and $25,000, and community members also pitched in to help. All the volunteer work saved the village $100,000, according to the chief.

He said that in the past, there had been a contentious relationship between full- and part-time firefighters, who are also cross-trained as paramedics. But over the past year, they have begun working closely together.

“The full-time firefighters were unsure about the level of training the part-timers would be getting,” explained Sheets. “So I got them involved in the training process, so they know they are trained properly.”

“It’s not all about me. The union president, Chris Schmelzer, has been great to work with,” said Sheets.

In addition to reopening the fire station, obtaining a “quint” fire truck was also accomplished for the department under Sheets’ watch. Two older model trucks were sold to get the new vehicle, which serves as both an engine and ladder truck. It gets its name from the five functions the vehicle provides, a pump, water tank, fire hose, aerial device and ground ladders.

“I just have a systematic approach of getting things done,” said the chief, when asked what his secret to success was.


“George has done a lot to make the department better,” said Mike Welch, a retired paid on-call firefighter who serves as an informal historian for the fire department. “He has brought the full-time and part-time firefighters together. There was more of a division in the past, but they are really working and getting along together now.”

Shelf publishing -- two area men get kids book published after if was on shelf for 25 years

  • Written by Jeff Vorva





Photo by Jeff Vorva

Mt. Greenwood’s Robert Walanka, left, and Worth’s Richard Plant show off their book that was just published 25 years after they created it.



One man loved to draw, the other loved to write.

They created a kid’s book and thought their future was bright.

Getting published, however, proved to be quite a fight.

But 25 years later, everything is all right.


Back in 1990, Worth’s Richard Plant and Mt. Greenwood’s Robert Walanka combined on a children’s book called “The Wunderful Tree.”

Plant did the drawing and Walanka crafted the words. Walanka admires the works of Dr. Seuss, so he used rhythm and rhymes to tell the story of evil turning good.

They were pretty proud of their work. They were ready to show it to the rest of the world.

But they never got to show it to the rest of the world.

Walanka estimates that he sent the book out to more than 70 publishers.

“I was rejected and rejected and rejected and rejected,” he said. “I was so frustrated I just shelved it. I put the manuscripts away.’’

But he got into the world of self-publishing last year and wrote a book called “The Insect King,” which he said didn’t sell much.

“But it got my foot in the door,” he said.

So Walanka dusted off the “Wunderful Tree” manuscript and found a better-known self-publishing company – AuthorHouse of Bloomington, Ind. -- to help print and promote the book.

Twenty five years later, Plant, a 68-year-old butcher at Pete’s Fresh Market, and Walanka, a 66-year-old media specialist at the Daniel Burnham Elementary School library in Cicero are finally in the book game.

While they both know that selling their product won’t be easy, they are hitting the ground running as they plan to promote their book this weekend at Fiesta del Sol in Chicago and will visit schools and libraries in the Chicago area. They also plan on marching in the Worth Days Parade in August.

For the 68-year-old Plant, who is hoping to retire after 40 years as a butcher in the near future, this is a dream come true.

“Ever since I drew for the school newspaper at Morgan Park High School, this is what I wanted to do,” Plant said. “I had resumes all over the place but I couldn’t get my foot in the door. This is something I always wanted to do but over the years it was more of a hobby.’’

When the two tag-teamed 25 years ago for this book, in which a tree saves one land from being overtaken by “evil meanies” from another land, Plant could practically read Walanka’s mind as to what he wanted the characters to look like.

“For some reason, when he told me about the book I immediately had in my head what I was going to draw,” Plant said.

With the exception of added coloring courtesy of Ian Piirtola, Plant didn’t have any revising to do.

“These are the same drawings we did 25 years ago,” Plant said. “I was surprised they didn’t want me to do more – but they liked it just the way it was.’’

Walanka is not too shy when he talks about his book. He said he has been around children’s books for years and thinks his book more than stacks up with many of the others he has seen.

“My book is better,” he said. “I read books all the time. I read this book to a classroom of kids at Burnham and everyone clapped after I read the book. They loved the book. Teachers have told me this is the best book they’ve read.’’

While Plant said his favorite illustrator is Chester Gould (who created Dick Tracy) Walanka said he loves Dr. Seuss.

“Every book I write is in rhythm. It rhymes. Sometimes to write four lines might take me six hours.  I was signing a book for someone and I’m Jewish. He said ‘we should call you ‘Dr. Jewss.’ Maybe if this works out, I’ll call myself that.’’

The self-described “former hippie” is almost done writing another book and Plant is putting the finishing touches on the illustrations. Walanka is telling any writer who will listen to keep pursuing their dreams.

“If I can do it at this age, anyone can do it,” he said. “Don’t give up. That’s reality.’’



Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Here is the cowboy who is going to fix the USA

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col Impressions


Gather ‘round the campfire cowpokes and I’ll tell you a story about the sheriff who is going to fix America.

See, there is this cowboy in Bealeton Virginia named Chris DeCarlo and he’s running for his county’s office of sheriff because he wants to “fix America.’’

His campaign people sent the Reporter a press release on quality stock paper in the real mail and they spelled my name right (bonus points!). The one side of the page is complete with a drawing of a cowboy on a horse and an American flag with the slogan “The sheriff to fix America.’’


I want to see America fixed.

Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

The trouble is that most of you reading this live in the south suburbs of Chicago and can’t vote for the man. Why he is spending valuable money sending these flyers to goofs like me and other editors across the nation is a puzzle but I’m glad he did.

The other side is a copy of the campaign speech he made earlier this month at the Fauquier County Fair (I can’t make this stuff up, folks).

Maybe we’re spoiled here, watching some of our candidates make their speeches in places like the soon-to-be-closed Lexington House in Hickory Hills and other fancy banquet and hotel venues.

But Mr. DeCarlo made his announcement at an event that also featured a meat goat show, Rosaire’s Racing Pigs, a Marvelous Mutts  show, a “bedazzle your bra” contest, a chicken parade, camel rides, a livestock obstacle course, a watermelon seed spitting contest, a barnyard beauty contest, zucchini races, a corn hole tournament and much, much more including a Tracy Lawrence concert.

It’s hard to take that announcement seriously, but if that’s the audience he is trying to reach…

Anyway, I want to know how a guy who is throwing his hat in the ring at the place where people are spitting watermelon seeds while the womenfolk are having their bras bedazzled is going to fix America.

This is what he said:

“As your sheriff I will fix America by arresting Virginia’s elected officials that accept contributions charging them with bribery, treason and sedition.

“I will charge them as traitors for trading access to the power you have placed with them. I will charge them with treason because they are violating their oath of office and articles of the Virginia Constitution in an official capacity. And I will charge them with sedition for conspiring with their contributors to allow the power and greed of money to overthrow the governments of the people.

“Article 2, Section 7 of the Virginia Constitution provides sheriffs, via a sworn oath and the power of arrest with standing to protect the power the Constitutions give you. So what do you think? Do campaign contributions dilute your power to control your governments? Do contributions serve the common good? Can and should the sheriff arrest elected officials for bribery, treason and sedition?

“November 3rd is your chance to answer these three questions with your one vote. As your chief law enforcement officer in Fauquier County my authority will supersede that of any State or Federal officer.

“As your elected sheriff I will have your authorization to proceed against these at large villains and declare them ‘Most Wanted.’ Please tell your friends to support this campaign and vote so the deputies and I can jail these privileged at-large criminals with all the others and fix America.’’

He also has a cute campaign slogan of “Don’t just throw the bums out, I’ll lock ‘em up.’’

So there you have it, folks. Vanquish a few scummy Virginia politicians and put them in a cell with Big Bubba and all will be right with America. Inflation will come down. Crime rates will disappear. Gas prices will be about a buck a gallon. Unemployment will be nonexistent. We will all have quality health insurance.

 Mr. DeCarlo also has a rap video on YouTube called “Democracy Rides Again” that you have to see to believe. He looks a little older in the video than he does in the drawing of him on the horse.

I kind of hope he gets elected just for the comedy of watching him and his deputies ride up on a horse to the state house ready to cuff the bad guys in suits.

This guy is Virginia’s version of Donald Trump. He is a candidate who is going against the grain and breaking convention. Is he dead serious or his this all an Andy Kaufman-like spoof? Is this guy Andy Kaufman, who some believe is still alive?

Anyway, we can all laugh at DeCarlo like we have been laughing at Trump.

But have you seen how Trump is doing in the latest polls?



New Green Hills library director considers job a perk, not work

  • Written by Kelly White


Jane Jenkins is back at Green Hills Public Library -- this time asPAGE-3-new-librarianJane Jenkins is the new library director at Green Hills. Submitted photo. its director -- and she has enjoyed her time not working there in her first month.
“The Green Hills Public Library is a great place to work, although I’m not sure ‘work’ is the right word to use because I absolutely love being here,” she said.
Whatever you want to call it, Jenkins is showing up to work with a smile on her face.
The library, located at 8611 W 103rd Street in Palos Hills, said goodbye to Library Director, Annette Armstrong, after 17 years in June and has welcomed the Tinley Park resident, on July 1, to fill her shoes.
“I worked at Green Hills Public Library for 13 years before going to work at Oak Lawn Public Library in April of 2013 as Department Head for Customer Service,” Jenkins said. “When I saw the job posting for library director at Green Hills I felt compelled to apply. This was the first library I worked for and I feel a strong connection with the community, the library board and staff here.”
Prior to leaving for a position at Oak Lawn, Jenkins worked as the assistant director of the Green Hills Public Library.
With her new role as director, she is focusing on reacquainting herself with the patrons and getting to know the new staff members at the library, however, she promises changes will be coming to the library in the future.
“I do have some exciting projects in the works and will be sharing more details as they progress,” she said. “I look forward to continuing to work with local agencies and providing the best services to the residents of Hickory Hills and Palos Hills.”
Armstrong, said Jenkins was a great hire to fill her position.
“She has a wonderful personality and will be a recognizable face for our patrons,” Armstrong said.
Library Board President, Rick Kelleher, agreed that Jenkins is a perfect fit in the library as the new director.
“We are very excited to have Jane working back with us as the new library director,” he said, “Being a former employee of the library, we really feel this was a great hire for not only the library but our entire district.”
Jenkins has been working with libraries since 2000 when her family relocated from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Chicago. She also worked as a personal assistant for various organizations.
She said her knowledge of the library, the board of trustees, staff and patrons has made the transition to a new director an easier one, she said.
“She has always wanted to be a library director,” Armstrong said, “I have always encouraged her to move for more experience during her library career and I know she will do a very good job taking on this role.”


Former Green Hills director was strong force in library’s expansion

  • Written by Kelly White


One woman has helped transform a tiny local library that could not stay open seven days a week into a two-story, state-of-the-art building. 

                Annette Armstrong recently retired from her position at Green Hills library director after 18 years. Her farewell celebration, which included guest appearances from former Hickory Hills City Clerk Joann Jackson and Executive Director of the Hickory Hills Park District Jennifer Fullerton was hosted by colleagues and took place on her last day on June 30 at the library.

Taking over Armstrong’s position was former Green Hills Assistant Director, Jane Jenkins on July 1. Jenkins is coming to Green Hills from Oak Lawn Library, where she was hired on in 2014 as the director of youth services.

“She is a good hire for us,” Armstrong said, “She has a wonderful personality and will be a recognizable face for our patrons.”

                With a passion for books and libraries, Armstrong took on a position at Green Hills Library after working as the assistant director of the Palatine Public Library and a youth librarian at Schaumburg Township Public Library. Residing in Elmhurst, she admits the commute to the Palos Hills library was not an easy one at first.

                “When I first started here in 1997, I got lost over a million times,” she said. “But I absolutely love working in the Southwest suburbs. South Siders are very hardworking and honest people.”

                The library, located at 8611 W 103rd Street in Palos Hills, has undergone some major changes thanks to a tax referendum pushed through by Armstrong in 2004. The increase was 12 cents on top of the existing lowest legal rate of 15 cents for Hickory Hills and Palos Hills residents allotted for a $5 million re-construction project to the library. It was open for business in 2008.

                “We were really just a small, little one-story hill-front library,” Library Board President, Rick Kelleher said, “Thanks to Annette’s visions and ideas, we have become a two-story modern building that is eco-friendly, overlooks the beautiful Moraine Valley landscaping and is up-to-date with technology.”

                Prior to the renovation project, the library was closed on Sundays and closed early every Tuesday and Thursday, according to Kelleher.  Now with a 12,000-square-foot renovated property, the library remains open seven days a week,  year round.  

                “Every organization has to keep evolving and that applies to individuals as well,” Armstrong said. “My inspiration comes from keeping current with changes in technology, managing space, services, how people communicate, learn, entertain themselves, and staying connected to changes happening in the private sector as well as what’s going on in other libraries.”

                The renovation project added many new aspects to the library, including: a youth center, a teen area with a 70-inch flat screen television where teen can watch movies or play Xbox, a media center, a screened-in garden patio for outdoor reading, an adult reading room with a fireplace, multiple independent study rooms and a full media lab comprised with green screens.

                “The outdoor patio is beautiful,” Kelleher said, “You would not believe the spectacular sunset overlooking the greenery.”

                Kelleher was recruited by Armstrong for his position as library board member.

                “Annette has a very fun, outgoing and bubbly personality,” he said. “She takes the time to get out there and get to know her patrons. I was just a patron that would visit the library regularly with my children and Annette approached me and said we could really use someone like you on our library board.”

                Armstrong said diversity is always a key among her library board members.

                “On our board we have had a lot of diversity including homemakers, senior citizens, parents and people who have moved here that want to make the community better,” she said.

                Kelleher said to be very happy he said yes to the role as library board member seven years ago, because three years after, he became the board president. The staff, colleagues, Illinois State Legislators, library trustees, community members and many of the library’s vendors including Studio GC – the library’s architectural firm, their auditor, and insurance broker is who Armstrong says she will miss the most. 

“It’s the people that you miss and the experiences,” she said, “I’ve learned so much from all of them but I’m not sure if I will miss them because I plan to stay in touch.”